Why do people interact?
People usually interact for one of three reasons.
- Convey information. People have important information to convey to one another. This is the rarest of all interactions, but strangely regarded as the most valuable.
- Bond with others. This is mostly meaningless babble – but bonds people together. It’s the chit-chat you engage in with friends. It creates trust and meaning. It opens up levels of friendships and share identity. This is most common for newcomers to a community and existing members.
- Status-jockeying. Similar to bonding, people interact to defend or increase their status. This is common amongst existing members. This isn’t necessarily bad, having an established pecking order is good.
Too many communities focus on conveying information. This is the least common and weakest form of interaction. Only so many people can convey information. It doesn’t bond people into communities. It doesn’t significantly increase participation.
If you really want to increase the number of social interactions in your community, you need to increase the level of bonding & status-jockeying discussions. All your attempts to increase activity should be based upon increasing one of these 3 types of interactions (preferably the latter 2). All the common off-topic conversations that generate a lot of activity fit help people bond and increase their status.
Hence, it makes sense to ask people lots of questions about themselves. To let them talk about things that have very little benefit to you or your brand. It is crucial you give people the opportunity to get to know each other beyond their mutual interests. This builds life-long friendships.
Likewise, giving people opportunities to increase and defend their status amongst the group is vital. Once people know their status, they will try to increase it. People do this by sharing their expertise/opinions on issues. Issues that you can prompt. They will seek recognition, recognition that you can give. They will aim to gain more power within the community, power you can trade for greater participation.
If you want participation to increase, focus on bonding and status-jockeying amongst members.